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Testimony Under Way in HD-48 Fight [Updated]

More than a dozen witnesses took the stand today to testify about where they lived and how they voted in the House District 48 contest in the November 2010 election.

Dan Neil at table with attorneys during a public hearing for the election contest of House D-48

More than a dozen witnesses took the stand this morning to testify about where they lived and how they voted in the House District 48 contest in the November 2010 election.

Travis County Republican Dan Neil ran against state Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, but lost by 16 votes. After the election, Neil asked for a recount, but he lost again by 12 votes. Neil took the matter to the House of Representatives, and the proceedings that are now under way could determine the winner of the seat.

Neil's lawyer, former state Rep. Joe Nixon, said at the hearing that the election was not perfectly run.

"In most cases, the margin of victory is such that the human error in running election doesn't affect the outcome," Nixon said. "But in this case, where the vote total after a recount is now down to 12 — which for the statisticians among us is .0000024 difference out of over 50,000 votes cast in this race."

Nixon said some voters had moved away from the district before the election but cast ballots in the race anyway. And there were about 35 voters on the suspended registry list who voted.

Howard's attorney, Randall "Buck" Wood, said the election was run as cleanly as any other. 

"There are no perfect people, and, therefore, there is no perfect election," Wood said. "This does not lead us to subjecting the voters of the county to the time and expanse of a new election or to have their will overturned."

State Rep. Will Hartnett, R-Dallas, will review the testimony, which is expected to last most of the day today, and will make his recommendations to a specially appointed committee, which will then make its recommendations to the Texas House. The House will then decide who will take the seat.

Both Nixon and Ray Bonilla, who also represented Howard, questioned officials from the Travis County Clerk's office about the ballot-by-mail process. They focused on indefinite absentees, who can only vote in federal — not state — elections, and whether all those ballots were counted accurately. Nixon questioned whether some votes that should not have been counted at all in the House race were awarded to Howard.

"We have no record of some of these ballots and how they've been handled in a recount," Nixon said.

The testimony will continue tomorrow.

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